A debut historical novel about the turbulent early years of Christianity.
In early first-century Palestine, Jesus Christ has recently departed from the world, leaving behind followers struggling to understand his legacy. Two strong-willed leaders—Simon Peter (here called “Simeon Peter”) and Jesus’ brother James—lead Christianity in increasingly different directions. Simeon worries about the mainstreaming of Jesus’ message among the Gentiles: “His teaching from God is being corrupted and will be lost again if we don’t put a concerted effort forth.” James, every bit as fiery-tempered as Simeon, seeks broader outreach and is dismayed by Simeon’s intransigence; at one point, he thunders, “You promised me you’d respect the Law!” Both men are concerned by the distortion of Jesus’ teachings caused by “a combination of people being sheep and silver tongued wolves in shepherd’s cloaks.” Although Bailot does a diligent job of fleshing out the sights and sounds of his ancient world—a good deal of research is unobtrusively evident—his main strength lies in filling his characters’ thoughts and speeches with lively, passionate scriptural analysis and debate. In a preface, the author states that he hopes that his fiction will be “a cup of cool water for all those lost souls who thirst for comfort in a convoluted Bible with such extremes of contradictions that a clear theme is obscured,” and surprisingly, it largely succeeds. As his characters eat and sleep and argue and make mistakes, he effectively realizes the struggles of Simeon and James and their fellow Christians as they confront the growing Hellenistic influence on their nascent divine message. Bailot’s dialogue is full of theology but free of cant, and he brings alive the vital essence of Christology debates while keeping his many characters recognizably human—particularly when they disagree with one another.
An ideologically and dramatically gripping novel of Christianity’s birth pangs.